Saturday, October 24, 2009

I Heart Uwe Boll. Frickin' Sue Me.

I'll say it loud and proud: Uwe Boll, contrary to what every mainstream critic in the country (no, the, the SOLAR SYSTEM) might say, is NOT the worst director in the world...At least not by my criteria.

Hollywood routinely excretes movies much worse than Boll's; generic, faceless, focus-grouped-to-death pieces of product slicker than the proverbial duck's ass but utterly bereft of personality. I'll assert that workmanlike hacks like Michael Bay and Brett Ratner deserve way more derision than the notorious German director ever will.

This supposition is based on a simple litmus test: Uwe Boll's movies entertain the hell out of me. Are they polished? Nope. Subtle? Uh-uh. Are they fun? Hells, yes.

Boll stands out amongst the Bays and Ratners of today not because he makes films for less money, but because he belongs in another era, alongside B-movie directors like Al Adamson and Ed Wood. Like those two filmmakers, the Teutonic titan makes lowbrow movies from his own gut, movies that--absurd and cheap as they sometimes are--possess a distinctive personality and a loopy energy all their own. I've fallen asleep during Bay and Ratner epics, but never during an Uwe Boll movie.

Boll's aesthetic never aspires to great art. He's a goofy, hyperactive kid intent on piling everything that'll satisfy the ids, bloodlusts, and libidos of other goofy hyperactive kids into his movies (hell, most of Boll's movies are adaptations of video games, themselves hotbeds of adolescent gratification). They're written with the florid literalism of really simple comic books. Judge 'em on any level beyond that, and of course they'll fall short. But my informal double-feature of two Uwe Boll epics--Alone in the Dark and Bloodrayne--gave me way more pleasure than higher-profile big-budger stuff like X-Men 3 or the fourth Indiana Jones movie.

In Alone in the Dark Christian Slater plays Edward Carnby, a paranormal investigator trying to figure out why there's a big blank spot in his memories as a child in an orphanage. So what's up? The central threat revolves around about how he and his fellow orphans were infected by monstrous parasites that turn everybody into testy super-strong zombies two decades later; and Native American magic; and computer-generated, quadrupedal faux-Alien monsters that've been unleashed by that Native American mojo, I guess.

Truth be told, the plot's immaterial: Boll pragmatically uses the convoluted storyline as a coat rack upon which he drapes a few of his favorite things. Inside of ten minutes, there's a random car crash and a big fight between Carnby and a chrome-domed parasite infectee (the latter ends up impaled on a stray piece of metal jutting from a fish cart). Soon, a CGI alien-rhino thing eats a security guard in a museum. Then a squadron of secret government soldiers burst into the meal site (a museum) and the monster makes short work of them, too.

Boll totally trims all of the fat, gouging pieces of plot and continuity meat away in the process: The soldiers are part of a covert paranormal agency that used to employ Carnby, a plot element summarized in one concise sentence. We never see Carnby actually investigate anything aside from his own past; and the fact that he lives in a spiffy gothic-tinged loft and wears a wardrobe adapted by a lot of the movie's target nerd demographic (Matrix leather coat and wife-beater) does nothing to illuminate his character: Again, it's all about the cool things. I, for one, got a kick out of Boll's refreshingly direct approach: After all, why putz around with characterization and plot advancement when there are skulls to be split, mass firearms to be discharged, and enough monsters to make your head explode?

Like a good lunkheaded hard-rock band, Boll steals from the best--a pinch of X-Files here, a dash of Aliens there, one cup of The Relic, four heaping tablespoons of The Matrix stirred in--with a childlike enthusiasm that's easy to get caught up in, if you just go with it.

Speaking of going with it, some major, major, MAJOR suspension of disbelief is required to swallow American Pie chippie Tara Reid as an archaeologist, and it's something to see how Boll works around Reid's mouth-breathing performance. Half of her dialogue is delivered while the camera's on another character (all the better for post-production during the starlet's fleeting moments of sobriety), and the two sentences of exposition about the ancient Native American tribe she's supposedly studying get delivered by the same security guard who ends up being CGI alien-food a few minutes later.

Fun as Alone in the Dark is, though, it's got nothin' on Bloodrayne, a period costumer/horror movie that takes Uwe Boll's more-is-more aesthetic to its zenith. Kristanna Loken of Terminator 3 fame plays the title character, a titian-haired half-human half-vampire (excuse me, Dhampir) who joins up with a band of vampire hunters known as the Brimstone gang, to avenge her mother's death by the hand of evil vampire lord Kagan (Oscar winner Sir Ben Kingsley).

More pilfering/synthesis goes on here, with Bloodrayne playing like a blood-soaked low-budget Lord of the Rings filtered through Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula. It replicates key scenes/levels from its videogame source, but branches off in all manner of oddball directions, and Boll again uses the screenplay as the springboard to uber-gratification of his inner little boy. Characters in Bloodrayne don't just get stabbed or bitten; they're sliced open in a volcanic arterial spray if they're not energetically parted from their heads and limbs amidst Vesuvius-style gushers of plasma; and gratuitous boobage abounds. It all gallops at a rapid pace, literally: Whenever things threaten to slow down Boll throws one of his characters onto a rapidly-sprinting horse for a long tracking shot.

The cast adds to the loopiness, oscillating between hyper-enthusiastic intensity (Loken treats this like her star-making role, she's so intense), campy scenery-chewing (you have NOT lived a full life until you witness arena-rock god Meat Loaf emoting in a white poodle wig as a foppish vampire pimp), and obvious discomfort (Petri Dish fave tough guy Michael Madsen amusingly derided the movie and his role when Rita and I met him at a Hollywood Collectors' Show three years ago). And talk about strange bedfellows (again): In addition to Madsen, Loaf, and Loken, Michelle Rodriguez turns up as a vampire fighter alongside Madsen and company; Michael Pare (Eddie in Eddie and the Cruisers) sells weapons; Geraldine Chaplin tells fortunes; Udo Kier gnaws at scenery in a monk's robe; and Titanic's resident rat-bastard Billy Zane camps it up in a wig almost as ridiculous as Meat Loaf's. Oh, and did I mention that Mahatma Gandhi plays a vampire king?

No, neither of these movies is even close to being what conventional wags'd call good. But they entertained the hell outta me. And you could argue a stronger case for the auteur theory with Boll than with Michael Bay or Brett Ratner. Both Alone in the Dark and Bloodrayne incorporate buried childhood memories as key plot elements, and Boll's enthusiasm for bloodletting provides a colorful aesthetic thread through these two films. His coda at Bloodrayne's end is a highlights reel of all of the meatiest, bloodiest, spurtiest death scenes from the preceding ninety minutes. Thank God the man's got his priorities straight.    


Rosemary Jones said...
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Rosemary Jones said...

Love Bloodrayne for the sheer insanity: plot, who needs plot? Uwe proves that linear plot that hangs together and all makes sense at the end is truly not needed (at least in his world). It's much more fun to have galloping horses, cool costumes, and sprays of blood.

Check the lead in her Brunnehilde venture some time.

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